London Film Festival 2013
Warsaw International Film Festival 2013
Abuse of Weakness (French: Abus de
faiblesse) is a 2013 semi-autobiographical film written
and directed by Catherine Breillat. The film had its
world premiere on 6 September 2013 at the Toronto
International Film Festival.
An extraordinarily subtle and ultimately devastating
by Paul Imseih
Having just watched this film at the Melbourne Film
Festival where Breillat introduced the film, I can say
that it is the most approachable and moving film she has
made in recent memory.
While the film reduces Breillat''s usual focus on
sexuality and sexual power, it more than makes up for in
its humane but disturbing focus on other power elements
in relationships within and across modern bourgeois
families and those classes below. I think that too few
reviewers miss the class critique presented by Breillat
but it is there and adds a whole new layer of
significance to this film.
Basing the story on her own real-life experience of
being defrauded by a major con, this autobiographical
account of sudden disability from stroke and the
manipulative strangers who take advantage of her sets up
an austere, quietly unsettling premise as a platform for
Isabelle Huppert''s extraordinary performance as
Breillat''s alter-ego, Maud.
Whereas Breillat''s previous films sometimes fail in her
use of non-professional actors lacking range or depth of
performance, Huppert fills this role with a technical
brilliance and emotional and intellectual depth that
allows the viewer to gain some hold on the rationale
behind a woman''s almost willing complicity in a
swindling of which she is the unfortunate target. The
word "victim" hardly seems appropriate here. Breillat
and Huppert are reaching for something else.
You''ll need to see the film to reach your own conclusion
of this elusive "something else". It''s enough to say
that the film remains gripping throughout and thoroughly
watchable, not least for the shimmering, alchemical
performance by Huppert who is at the height of her
powers in this performance.
work has been associated with the cinéma du
corps/cinema of the body genre. In an interview with
Senses of Cinema, she described David Cronenberg as
another filmmaker she considers to have a similar
approach to sexuality in film.
Though Breillat spends most of her time behind the
camera, she has acted in a handful of movies. She
made her film debut in Bernardo Bertolucci''s Last
Tango in Paris (1972) as Mouchette, a dressmaker,
alongside her sister Marie-Hélène Breillat.
In 2004, Breillat suffered a cerebral hemorrhage,
causing a stroke that paralyzed her left side.
After five months of hospitalization and a slow
rehabilitation, she gradually returned to work,
producing Une vieille maîtresse (The Last Mistress)
in 2007. This film was one of three French films
officially selected for the Cannes Film Festival of
In 2007, Breillat met notorious conman Christophe
Rocancourt, and offered him a leading role in a
movie that she was planning to make, based on her
own novel Bad Love, and starring Naomi Campbell.
Soon after, she gave him €25,000 to write a
screenplay titled La vie amoureuse de Christophe
Rocancourt (The Love Life of Christophe Rocancourt),
and over the next year and a half, would give him
loans totalling an additional €678,000. In 2009, a
book written by Breillat was published, in which she
alleged that Rocancourt had taken advantage of her
diminished mental capacity, as she was still
recovering from her stroke. The book is titled Abus
de faiblesse, a French legal term usually translated
as "abuse of weakness". In 2012, Rocancourt was
convicted of abus de faiblesse for taking Breillat''s
money, and sentenced to prison.
In September 2010, Breillat''s second fairy-tale
based film, La belle endormie (Sleeping Beauty),
opened in the Orizzonti sidebar in the 67th Venice
As of 2011, although Breillat had moved on to other
projects, she still hoped to film Bad Love, but had
not yet been able to find financing to do so.
However somewhat ironically, a film adaptation of
her book Abus de faiblesse, directed by Breillat and
starring Isabelle Huppert, began production in 2012,
and was screened at the 2013 Toronto International